In Which Tajima Rocks My Socks, or, In Which I Finally Break Chronological Order

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Tuesday, 27 February 2007, 10.00 am JST

sotd: Move, Wanna Fly To Be Wild
cotd: RR5 Honda Elysion Prestige SZ

Despite having the best cellular phone handsets and some of the best cars in the world (two things which have undoubtedly consumed a lot of my attention in the last few years), sometimes I still wonder why I packed up and left the comforts and perfect tropical climate of home to settle my ass in Japan, what with its four seasons, ignorant people, and highly discriminatory social infrastructure.

Well, let me just put it out there that days like yesterday go great lengths to reaffirm my conviction that coming here is “worth it.”

After Sunday’s 2-hour-long graduation ceremony in the freezing school gymnasium which was basically just like a normal school assembly in format and rather like a funeral in appearance (really, we could try to pick a theme other than Men In Black), Monday brought 代休 (daikyu, the beloved “substitution holiday”) and the day that Taniguchi sensei and I would Go To Izushi.

At roughly 9:30, Taniguchi sensei picked me up in front of school (me having gone outside at 9:20 to get a drink from the vending machine), where we were immediately off to the Co-op confectionary to get some pastries for the Ido residence (and the inhabitants therein). At about 10:20, after some heavy fiddling with the Peugeot’s navigation system, we were off . . . to the north. The furthest north in Hyogo I’d been heretofore was Aogaki, and even then, it’s still part of Tamba. You can imagine how much I feared for my body warmth. Nevertheless, we made our way to Izushi Town in Toyooka City (兵庫県豊岡市出石町), where we finally arrived at the Ido residence (construction completed, August 2006) sometime before 12. After having coffee inside and me no longer wanting to go back to my crappy apartment, Ido sensei took the two of us to partake of Izushi’s most recognized export, 出石そば (Izushi soba), which is eaten in servings on small dishes and dipped into a sauce of egg, green onions, yamaimo (mountain potato), and shoyu, instead of the usual sauce, which is just shoyu. After this, we walked around the main part of town, which is a traditional 下町 (shitamachi, or town below the castle), and includes two famous highlights, the 辰鼓櫓 (Shinkorou, a famous Meiji-period clock tower, and either the first or second oldest of such clock towers in Japan), and 出石城 (Izushi Castle, the only authorized castle in the Tajima area after the one castle per area directive of 1615). After a short stopover at the Ido house, we were then off in the direction of Kinosaki Onsen (兵庫県豊岡市城崎町). Along the way, we tried to get into the Hyogo Prefectural Homeland for the Oriental White Stork (兵庫県立コウノトリの郷公園), but alas it was closed due to scares of bird flu. What storks have to do with chickens I know not, but oh well. Next time. Side note: the Oriental White Stork (コウノトリ) is also the official bird of Hyogo Prefecture. After this, we passed by and stopped at 玄武洞 (Genbudo, a natural cave formation along the side of the Maruyama River) and then finally headed for the hot springs.

Famous as it is, there is no one bath house called “Kinosaki Onsen.” Rather, it is simply the name of the area, with tons of individual bath houses scattered throughout the town. Kinosaki is simply the name of the town (formerly self-governing, it is now under administrative jurisdiction of Toyooka City, as a result of complicated mergers and dissolutions of districts, towns, and villages, a giant geographic and political reorganization process started a few years ago by Mr. Koizumi), and the bath houses are part of it. Anyway, I digress. We stepped into (though not back-to-back, for fear that we all might melt) 柳湯 and 一の湯, two of the more famous ones. (Though who really knows, they’re all famous, of course.) Emerging into the twilight of northern Hyogo sometime after 6, we left the car park, which at an astounding 200 yen for a major national tourist area almost gave me cause to faint, and were back to the 井戸家.

Once there, we were treated to a home-coooked (home-prepared, I guess) sukiyaki dinner, complete with Tajima’s other famous food, 但馬牛 (Tajima beef, which (trivia alert!) is actually the true name and origin of so-called Kobe beef). After stuffing ourselves full of prime meat and fresh vegetables and then cramming in the pastries I had bought in the morning, Taniguchi sensei and I were back off to Tamba, trying once again to navigate the reverse trip, only without light. We still managed to get back in about an hour.

And that concluded the best day in Japan in my recent memory. Next time, back to old news.

In Which Jamie Visits

Friday, 23 February 2007

Friday, 23 February 2007, 03.00 pm JST

sotd: エイジアエンジニア, 一人のメリークリスマス
cotd: L235S Daihatsu Esse Custom

So after that lovely highway night bus ride through which we were mostly sleeping, we arrived at Hankyu Umeda Station at 8 in the morning, with a couple hours to wait with all our stuff. Why Umeda and not back to Sannomiya again, you ask? Well, mostly because fresh off our trip to Tokyo we were scheduled to meet with Jamie who would be staying at Kristine’s place for a few days while we showed her around Kansai a bit. Now, what might that involve?

-Lots of catching up and discussion of work/students, etc.; comparisons and contrasts between Hyogo and Fukuoka.

-Taking Jamie to Himeji to see, of course, Himeji Castle.

-Taking Jamie to Akashi to see around the station and eat at Bombay.

-Taking Jamie to Nara to see Nara Park, Todaiji, and of course, deer.

-Taking Jamie to Osaka to see Namba/Shinsaibashi and experience Cafe Muji. (That last one was actually a first for us too.)

-Taking Jamie to Kobe to see our nearest major city. (Well, actually, Kristine mostly took Jamie around Kobe while I waited around at home for Tokyo Banana.)

-Seeing Jamie off at Umeda Station since she could take a bus from there to go to Itami Airport. 😦

Pictures are here, here, and here.


Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Tuesday, 20 February 2007, 11.40 am JST

sotd: BoA, Winter Love
cotd: GWS191 Lexus GS450h Version L

And then the second semester of school finished. Which meant we were free to go somewhere . . . as long as we took vacation days to do it. Since leaving Japan was already out of the question, mostly due to cost constraints, we went to the only other natural place to go: Tokyo, to see the big city and reunite with as many friends as possible. We gave ourselves five days to be there by leaving on an overnight bus from Kobe on Friday, December 22 and arriving in Tokyo on the morning of Saturday, December 23, staying and cramming in as much as we could do until Wednesday, December 27 when we would take an overnight bus back to Osaka where we would meet Jamie on the morning of Thursday, December 28 and be with her until Sunday, December 31. (But that’s for an altogether separate post.)

As they say, rest is for the weak.

Friday, December 22 / Saturday, December 23

After work on Friday, which involved no classes as it was the last day of school and therefore reserved strictly for the 終業式 (end-class-ceremony), I quickly gathered up and packed the rest of the things I needed and then hit the road for Miki. Once there, I helped Kristine get the rest of her things together, stepping out briefly to run and grab us a light dinner from McDonald’s, and helping ourselves to part of the christmas cake I got via my school’s food processing section. It’s the way to go, folks. Don’t be fooled by those nonsense pamphlets at Lawson. After a 50-minute ride into Kobe which seems to be getting shorter the longer we live here (or it could just be me WANTING it to be shorter), we waddled over to the Sannomiya Bus Terminal and . . . waited. At 10:30 we were off, in a JR bus which was sadly much more cramped than the Keihan buses I’ve taken before.

At roughly 7:15 am, we arrived at JR Shinjuku Station, ready for our first vacation in Japan. After a stop at Starbucks, we got on the Yamanote Line from Shinjuku to Ikebukuro, then transferring to the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line to head to Edogawabashi Station, where we emerged from Exit 3 and crossed the street, passed Hanamizubashi (華水橋!) and arrived at the Endo residence. Trust me, it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. After breakfast and freshening up time, we left and got back on the subway, heading for Chiyoda-ku (千代田区), the physical and political center of Tokyo City, home to the Imperial Palace and many of the national government facilities. Today, we would be going into the palace to experience 天皇誕生日. Normally, the interior grounds of the palace are closed to the public (read: commoners) except for two days: January 1 and December 23, the latter being Emperor Akihito’s birthday. Lucky for us that we could catch an overnight bus to Tokyo on December 22. I dare say, the timing couldn’t have worked out better. Before going into the palace grounds, we met up with one Christopher Killmer, back in Tokyo at his family’s house for winter break.

It was quite the event, with as much shouts of “Banzai!” and waving of paper Japanese flags as one can imagine. The Emperor’s speech was short and simple, thanking everyone for coming and wishing them health and good fortune in the upcoming year. On a side note, he speaks slower than any Japanese person I’ve ever met. I’m wondering if it’s his special speech voice, or his, you know, normal voice. After the event was over, Kristine and I and Killmer walked through the grounds of the palace and came out on the east side, perfectly placed to wander over to a rather more controversial location: Yasukuni Shrine.

After wandering around the Yasukuni grounds and having seen more than a sufficient number of scary black communist vans and similarly scary middle-aged suit-wearing Japanese men, we were off, heading back around the palace and finding ourselves at the beginning of Aoyama-dori, which cuts straight through one of the poshest areas in Tokyo. We three stopped at McDonald’s for a much-needed lunch and then split up, as Killmer needed to head home. We were headed in the direction of Shibuya.

Once at Shibuya, we took in the wonder that is the front side of JR Shibuya Station, took some pictures with Hachiko, and met Mari! After some walking around the Shibuya area, we stopped for food and conversation at a cafe that turned out to have some pretty awful service (for Japan standards). After parting back at Shibuya Station, Kristine and I headed back towards Ikebukuro where we waited for the Endos to return from a house party. Once that happened, we reconvened back at the 遠藤家 and took a taxi over to La Qua, a shopping/dining/entertainment complex across the street from the Tokyo Dome. We were in fact here to celebrate the opening of a new Hub, as the Endo children are acquaintances of the chain’s owner, which is a good or bad thing depending how you look at it. Considering the first drink on the menu is always absinthe, I’m leaning towards the bad side. Killmer also made it out and joined us for the time being. Pictures are on Fotki if you haven’t seen them already. After the festivities, half the group (which we were part of) took a taxi back, while Taka, Killmer, and Kaz walked back to the house. I’ll leave out Kaz’s head-butting incident for the sake of brevity. If you want to know, you can ask him yourself. Everybody crashed soon after and even Killmer stayed the night.

Sunday, December 24

The next day we got a not-too-early start and headed out towards Harajuku to see a couple attractions. They turned out to be half-success-half-failures. The first was to find the Nodame Cafe, a time-limited themed restaurant based on the popular Fall 2006 Fuji TV drama Nodame Cantabile. We ended up finding the exact place, but learned that December 24 and December 25 (also the airing date of the final episode) were completely booked up and that we couldn’t get in. Bummer. So we commiserated over an Italian lunch down the street. Afterwards, we headed to the new Audi Forum Tokyo showroom in an attempt to see the hottest car of 2008, the new Audi R8 sportscar. I had already read that coinciding with the opening of the Audi Forum was the first showing of the R8 in Japan, but when we got there, no R8 was to be found. In the spot where it used to sit was a much lowlier but still lovely TT. Oh well. Not to be deterred, we roamed through Harajuku’s famous Takeshita-dori and upon emerging from the backside, experienced the KDDI Designing Studio. Never mind that we are NTT DoCoMo customers. After playing with all the free toys in the KDDI building, we headed back through Takeshita, stopping for crepes and kind of unexpectedly meeting Killmer there, we headed back for the Christmas Eve Wine Tasting Party at the 遠藤家. See pictures.

Monday, December 25 [クリスマス]

After waking up pretty late, we waited with Taka for Aki to arrive, and then went to lunch at a nearby udon shop. Not having any very specific plans, we went with Aki out to Asakusa to see the famous Sensoji, and walk through Nakamise-dori and some of the other shopping streets. At the Asakusa station of the still-brand-new Tsukuba Express, we parted, with Aki heading for Ibaraki and us heading one station in to the terminus at Akihabara Station. From there, we saw didn’t see much of the typical Akihabara fare, as it was a regular working day at approximately twilight hours. (Twilight and Akihabara in the same reference! Points if you can figure out what in the world I’m referring to.) After a couple laps of walking up and down Chuo-dori, we stopped in for a Christmas Pepper Lunch and then got on the subway to Ginza, home to the most expensive real estate in Japan. By this time, it was already dark, and we mostly enjoyed the lights and traffic of downtown Tokyo as we headed towards Marunouchi and the Tokyo Station area. Despite getting lost not a few times, we eventually made our way back to Yurakucho and got on the subway back for Edogawabashi.

Tuesday, December 26

After another mid-morning start, we ventured out into the worst rain of the year (seriously, I swear it was approaching typhoon status) to head to Odaiba, everyone’s favorite artificial island. After getting on the New Transit Yurikamome at Shimbashi (which is heavily featured in the first five minutes of Supli, btw), we crossed over the Rainbow Bridge and got off directly in front of the Fuji Television Headquarters Building. Once inside, we enjoyed to our hearts’ content the sights and sounds of some of Fuji’s most famous shows, including Kristine’s favorite Chibi Maruko-chan, and our encounter with the Fuji mascot dressed up as a samurai to promote a period drama. After we were Fuji-ed out, we got back on the Yurikamome and got off directly in front of the Toyota Mega Web. Highlights included the Lexus corner and the recently debuted Toyota Blade. I already know I’m going to need to go back sometime, as I didn’t have enough time to see the historic car showcase, as well as experience the Ride One attraction (though that was also on account of my not having my international driver’s license at the time). By about 5:30 we hightailed it off the island to head back to Edogawabashi to meet the Endos for a pretty authentic Chinese dinner.

Wednesday, December 27

On our last day in Tokyo, Kristine and I and Taka headed out towards Ochanomizu Station to meet Killmer and the one and only Takako Kamata! Having last seen her in December 2004 when I stayed at her family’s house during my first trip to Tokyo, it was a reunion waiting to happen. We immediately headed for lunch at the place previously decided by Taka(ko), the Mu’u Mu’u Diner. Loco mocos in Japan…wow. Afterwards we stopped at the always quirky Village Vanguard and saw the Confucian Yushima Seido, walked over to Kanda Myojin, and then headed back to Shinjuku. Emerging at Takashimaya Times Square, we walked over and across the tracks to discover Japan’s first Krispy Kreme Donuts…12 days old and with a 2-hour plus wait. Great. In the meantime, we had to say goodbye to Takako but a little while later met with Aki again and Yuki at the station. In our search to find food, we ended up at one of Shinjuku’s many 居酒屋 (izakaya)…you know the ones with the guys who stand on street corners with their headsets, advertising to groups to come to their particular store. After this and a couple pictures later, we headed back to Ikebukuro, where Kristine and I were in a literal scramble to find Tokyo Banana before (a) we had to get on the bus and (b) before all the department stores closed for the night. Luckily we did, and had it shipped ahead of us back to Hyogo. Then it was back to Taka’s house to pack up everything and say our goodbyes, and then we were on the Tokyo Metro for one last time to head to Shinjuku and wait for our JR Highway Bus back to Kansai. After lots of waiting and a few delays, we were on the bus–in the extra comfortable seats, no less–and back to whence we came.

10 minutes. 1000 yen.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Monday, 22 January 2007, 03.00 pm JST

sotd: Mr.Children, しるし
cotd: JZX110 Toyota Verossa VR25

Oh no! I’m behind again! Good thing it’s the end of the semester. (Edit: beginning of a new semester.) Time for me to recap everything post-Wii.


So on Friday, December 8, despite being in the middle of the final test period (Thursday the 7th, Friday the 8th, Monday the 11th, and Tuesday the 12th), my school had its long-awaited and much-heralded End of the Year Party (忘年会, forget-year-party). And it wasn’t even in Tamba. No, we left the inaka City of Tamba to make our way to the Royal Hotel Hill Fukchiyama (sic) in Fukuchiyama City, Kyoto Prefecture. Since it happened roughly a month ago, here’s a summary replay of the whole shindig:

1. A huge buffet dinner.
2. A lottery with a prize for each teacher and office staff member. (I hate to imagine the budget for this event.) The teacher sitting next to me won the 160GB DVD Recorder. I got leg warmers. >.<
3. Afterparty at a スナック with the enka-singing-age male teachers plus the vice-principal plus the principal.
4. Free (er, included) one-night hotel stay, with each person getting their own room.
5. Free (er, included) access to the hotel’s on-site onsen.

And all within a half-hour drive from my apartment! Good times were had by all and I am already looking forward to next year’s party. ^_^

12月9日:Bombay Christmas Party

On the afternoon of the ninth, after returning from Fukuchiyama and making a pit stop in Tamba, it was off to Miki by car and then Akashi by train/bus for the annual Hyogo AJET (website not updated) Christmas Dinner Party Spectacular (ok, I embellished that a little) at the best Indian restaurant in Japan, Bombay. For . . . okay, well I don’t remember how much it was, but that’s not so important . . . we were treated to all-you-can-eat Indian food and a bunch of JETs we didn’t know. (Our compatriots Heather and Dylan couldn’t make it on account of Heather’s not feeling well at the time.) Either way, it was fun, delicious, and complete with Bollywood movie clips and music videos! Afterwards the crowd headed to a gaijintastic bar but Kristine and I, being Kristine and I, dug out and headed back to Miki.


The next day got off to an early start as Kristine and I made the long trek from Miki through Kobe and Osaka to Hirakata, finally coming to the end of our journey at my favorite train station in Japan, Keihan Hirakatashi Station. After heading downstairs from the platform, we met Chelsey Yap and promptly headed to find lunch. We headed behind KFC to dine at a yakiniku restaurant, of which the name escapes me. No matter though. Either way, it was good. After some walking around the station, we got on a bus to 山田池公園 (Yamadaike Park), where Kristine and I got off and Chelsey continued on in order to return to her host family’s house. Kristine and I walked almost through the entire park, which is funny since I had never even so much as been to the place when I was at Kansai Gaidai. (Oops.) After hopping on the bus back to the front entrance of Kansai Gaidai University, I treated (if you can call it that) Kristine to her first-ever meal at Bikkuri Ramen. 180 yen (189 yen tax in) for a bowl of ramen. Not gourmet dining by any means, but that’s probably why it’s across the street from the main gate of a major four-year university. Afterwards we headed back to the station, stopping in at Vivre and the bookstore I used to go to several times a week.

Soon after that, we headed back, making a stop at Kinokuniya Umeda Station along the way.


For the next weekend, we decided to do something we would later vow never to do again: view the Kobe Luminarie on a Saturday evening. For a rather visual explanation of why this is probably a bad idea for an outing, just see the first couple of pictures here. Nevertheless, we managed to get a number of excellent things done in Kobe that day:

1. Viewing the Luminarie. (Okay, okay, maybe a little too self-explanatory?)
2. Me getting my first haircut in Japan. (Thank you QB House for finally offering a service that is cheaper in Japan than in the States.)
3. Experiencing the holy goodness that is Star Child’s. (Claiming to have the best burgers in Kobe, this is actually not true. In reality, they have the best burgers in all of Japan.)

12月17日:Shopping in Miki

So the next day, Sunday the 17th, was spent staying in Miki to get some things done that we needed to do before we would, in succession, go to Tokyo and then come back to host Jamie for a few days. This mostly involved setting up one of Kristine’s rooms in her apartment as a guest room. This took us to the friendly neighborhood O-Joyful and included buying, among other things, buying a twin size pipe bed, having to cart it back to Kristine’s place by kei truck (one of many first experiences I’ve had by living in Japan, and certainly not the last), and then spending some time to fully assemble it. There were other places we went and other things we did that day, but none of them quite top driving the kei truck.

For next time: an 8000 yen bus ride to Tokyo. (Yikes! Did they even survive? Stay tuned!)

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Thursday, 4 January 2007, 04.00 pm JST

sotd: 絢香, 三日月
cotd: AZE156 Toyota Blade G





Thursday, 14 December 2006

Thursday, 14 December 2006, 02.00 pm JST

sotd: m-flo loves Bonnie Pink, Love Song
cotd: PV36 Nissan Skyline 350GT Type SP

As I have almost entirely caught up with the retelling of the events of my stay so far in Japan and practically got my internets affairs in some order, I have an announcement to make: for everyone who wants to know when they will see my pictures, they are already online. Where? Here.

www dot fotki dot com slash cjileong

If you haven’t seen it on my updated links box to the right, you may certainly use the link above. So far I have almost all pictures uploaded starting from my arrival in Japan in August. Since it is a general picture storage site, once all Japan pictures are up, I will start uploading other parts of my photo library. Unfortunately, I only have a trial account with Fotki until December 18, after which time I will have to pay 30 dollars per year to keep open my unlimited space. This is why I will be eventually uploading almost every digital picture I have ever taken. If I’m paying for unlimited space, then I will certainly use as much space as I can.

Originally I had been uploading pictures directly to WordPress in order to display them in my posts, but that method was abruptly halted when I discovered WordPress only has a 50MB total upload limit. I then had to begin a search to find a decent picture hosting site. This is why Part 3 was delayed by approximately two months.

Unfortunately, my goal of continuing to provide pictures along with text in my WordPress posts has simultaneously been thwarted by the same Fotki. By using a random URL sequence to recall the location of stored pictures, they have all but defeated any attempt to allow display of Fotki-stored pictures on an external page. Even one’s own pictures. >.<

That being said, although I may stop the effort to thread pictures into my posts, do not despair! From now on, I should be posting things to Fotki and WordPress at roughly the same time, and events I describe will most likely be held in common by both Fotki (pictures) and WordPress (text). So, I’m sorry to make you look at two different websites to be following what I’m doing, but if you were that interested in the first place, it shouldn’t be a problem, right? Right. Okay.

Alright. Interruption over. Regular posts will continue from the next installment.

In which I attempt to remember everything that’s happened since August 5. (Part 4)

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 01.30 pm JST

sotd: コブクロ, Bell
cotd: ZRE142 Toyota Corolla Axio 1.8 Luxel

So here will be the start of a concerted attempt not to let huge chunks of time pass between blog posts. Though I am still working on finishing the previous posts by adding pictures and such, I will start the composition of the next entry. It might not work, as with a lot of things I do, but at least I will try.

And so I continue in the effort to catch up my blog. Mostly so I can start using more creative titles for posts. Because it’s the small things that matter most.

21. 京都, with some planning

So once the weekend came, we were off yet again to the capital of capitals, the lovely city of Kyoto. Not wanting to reencounter the headaches and footaches of our last trip into the city, I had gone ahead and booked a room at the Hokke Hotel Club Kyoto, literally across the street from Kyoto Station. Woot. So on Saturday we headed from Miki to Kyoto by train and arrived by noon. We dropped our bags off at the hotel, took care of some phone business for Kristine, had an excellent if small lunch from Subway, visited 三十三間堂 (Sanjusangendo Temple, east of Kyoto Station and home to 1000 statues of Kannon) which is another of my favorite places in Japan (though come to think of it, I don’t want to sound completely touristy, but many of my favorite places are in Kyoto), then bought some omiyage for our families that we now have in our apartments but have no idea how to send home, and then trekked north (and by trekked of course I mean rode the plush, ventilated, well-lit subway) to one of the best restaurants in all of Japan: Shakey’s Pizza. For roughly (or exactly) 867 yen, you have unlocked the door to all-you-can-eat pizza, pasta, and salad. What’s more, it is a rare Japanese buffet with NO TIME LIMIT. Or at least none I’ve observed in the two or three times I’ve been there. (Explanatory note: because the Japanese are exceedingly strange in certain aspects of food service, most buffets are time limited to 60, 90, or–rarely–120 minutes from the time you enter the store. I don’t know why either, as they really don’t eat all that much anyway.)

The next day, we set out in mid-morning to head towards the two events we had come to see. After lunch at Curry House, we made our way towards Sanjo and crossed the Kamogawa to find a spot from which to watch the 時代祭 (Festival of the Ages, held annually since 1895 and one of the big three festivals in Kyoto), and somehow we found a spot directly across the street from where I watched the festival two years ago. Strange how that works. Afterwards, we headed north into the mountains, to make our way towards 鞍馬の火祭 (Kurama Fire Festival, which also takes place annually and conveniently or inconveniently–whichever you prefer–on the same day as the Festival of the Ages). However, this one is probably the more exciting of the two as it involves a large number of people carrying huge pine torches of fire towards Kurama Temple, chanting サイレイ、サイリョ while foreigners Japanese and otherwise crowd around this tiny town to watch the participants carry said fire back and forth around said town. Of course, the little kids are the cutest.

On Monday, we took a day of vacation since we knew there was no way of getting back home after the festival. So we checked out of Kyoto and slowly made our way back to Kobe, where we successfully (and fairly quickly!) took care of getting multiple reentry permits at the immigration control office. So until August 6, 2009 we are now able to freely depart and reenter Japan as many times as we like. Bali, here I come!

Afterwards we spent the day in the Sannomiya area looking through various shopping buildings and bookstores and eventually made our way back to not-so-city areas. It had been raining in Kobe most of the day anyway, so it didn’t feel so bad to leave.

22. 証。。。er, 明石

After another extremely stimulating (not really) week in school, it was time for another weekend and another chance to explore some part of Kansai. So after making my way to Miki under the Friday twilight, we made our start on Saturday by going to sushi for lunch. After lunch we stepped into Pleasures, a small shop specializing in gaming hardware and software. There we discovered something we never expected to see.

A Nintendo DS Lite display WITHOUT a sold-out sign attached.

You see, only a few days previous, we had been bitten by the DS bug, and were then convinced to go out and get some for ourselves. You see though, as simple and fantastic as this sounds, in Japan there is something of a logistical nightmare in trying to get one. Having proven hugely popular since its release earlier this year as an updated compact version of the original DS, its availability in (now) five colors has not gone far to alleviate the shortage, as it almost feels like Nintendo is purposely restricting supply in order to sustain a constant demand for the product. Most stores are often sold out of many of the colors, sometimes all, and have had to resort to practices as selling limited amounts of devices and only on certain days, for example Saturday and Sunday. Nevertheless, within five minutes of entering the store, we manged to asked the clerk whether they really did have machines in stock.


Even in black (the newest and therefore must-have color)?


SCORE. So within another five minutes, we had walked out with a black DS (for me) and a pink DS (for Kristine). From here we caught the train two stops to Miki Station and waited around for a Shinki Bus (神姫, the Kobe-Himeji area) to ride to Akashi.

Having arrived in Akashi, my first impressions were rather positive. Though we arrived by bus, my first thoughts of Akashi Station (shared by JR West and Sanyo) were of it being gorgeous without being overdone, and I thought the city had a particularly contemporary, even slightly international, feel. We took the opportunity to go to Toys R Us (in Japan?! how could there possibly be a Toys R Us in Japan?) to search for Kristine’s Halloween costume and a DS game or two. To answer my own question, it was located on one floor of a shopping complex, not sprawled over a city block as in the case of American locations. We had dinner at a pretty generic food court and enjoyed our new toys. We caught the train back and it was my first chance to ride on the Sanyo Electric Railway.

 The next day was spent walking around Kobe without a particular objective so for the sake of the narrative it will be skipped.

23. 文化祭!

The next week in school was abbreviated and at the same time buzzing with energy, as it was time for the annual Culture Festival, the biggest event of the year in any Japanese school. Ours was spread over two days, Thursday, November 2 and Friday, November 3.

Thursday was the 校内 (in-school) day, and the entire school spent the entire day in the gym. Contents included the 合唱コンクール (Song Contest), presentations by the different classes on their practicum trips (Hokkaido, Tokyo, or Nagano depending on grade and class), a group of 3rd-year breakdancing boys, a couple rock bands, and the 3rd-year 家庭科 (Home Economics) Fashion Show.

Friday was the general Festival, which took place entirely outside and had the usual booths and selling of food/items. I think my school’s festival was extra-special as almost all the food was order-made by our agriculture, food processing, and home ec students, including such goodies as nabe, udon, and different types of bread (I’m a big fan of the 50-yen クリームパン). The festival also included selling of vegetables and fruits produced on campus, flowers grown on campus, a petting zoo complete with pony rides!, games, exhibits, and performances by the Brass Band. The climax came near the end of the festival, when the 1-1 agriculture class performed an apparently very famous Hikami tradition: the Daikon Dance. Though I don’t know the purpose or reason behind it, it was immediately followed by the students giving out tons of free daikon to anyone who wanted some. We ended up with two bags (four daikon total) and gave a bag to Taniguchi sensei. Seriously, what were we to do with four daikon? What would we even do with two?

It was a great festival and I left feeling very impressed by my students and actually pretty fortunate to be at this particular school. At any rate, I’ll probably be fattened up by free or cheap food by the time I leave.

The rest of the weekend was spent around Hikami until Sunday, when it was time to take Kristine back to Miki. Through the miracle of 代休 (alternate holiday) I had the next few days off and spent them taking it easy in Miki. Kristine and I ate out a lot, I spent a lot of time at the local bookstore, and we made miso soup using daikon.

24. Oratoウィー

Saturday, November 11, other than being Pocky Day in Japan (November 11 = 1111), was the date of the 21st Annual Tanyu District English Oratorical Contest at Sanda Shounkan Senior High School. Tanyu (丹有), if I remember correctly, includes the Tamba 丹波, Sasayama 篠山, Sanda 三田, and Arima 有馬 areas, hence the name. Sanda Shounkan, meanwhile, is about four or five years old, and is a public high school that is a complete replica of Stanford University in the middle of nowhere, Japan. For more details, see my picture page. We had one student who entered in the speech section. We were supposed to have two, but one got sick and dropped out a couple days before the event. As we had a particular lack of practice time due to the timing of 文化祭 a week before, we did so-so at best, but I think I have a better idea of how to work with next year’s Hikami entrants.

On Sunday, Kristine and I headed into Osaka to take part in one of the coolest events to have happened in Japan so far: Nintendo World 2006 and the Wii体験会2006 (Wii Experience Event 2006). I say again: WII! Formerly known as the Nintendo Revolution, this next-generation device features a motion-sensing remote-style controller known to Japan as the Wiiリモコン but to us far more creative English speakers as the Wiimote. But why am I wasting my time describing it? Unless you’ve been living in a very isolated cave for the last . . . year, you probably should have heard about it by now. Held at Intex Osaka on Nanko Island next to the Osaka World Trade Center (which we had previously been to), the exhibition hall featured Wii games scheduled for release between the December 2 launch and early 2007, while some of the space was also used to demonstrate upcoming DS releases. The clear star of the event was ゼルダの伝説:トワイライトプリンセス (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess), and regrettably the line to play was closed off, after that stand had reached in excess of a 300-minute wait for a 10-minute play. Kristine and I contented ourselves to walk around the building and turn our visit into an information-gathering session on Wii and DS and left reasonably satisfied. We then headed over to the ATC to a pasta place for a very enjoyable lunch (as the details have been divulged on Kristine’s site, the need for mine is obviated) and slowly made our way back to Miki by way of Umeda.

25. 雨天神戸、雨天京都

The next Saturday was a Saturday spent in Sannomiya. It was raining and we spent as much time as we could inside. That’s all I remember of that day. Seriously. Except for the great Thai restaurant we found north of the station and satisfied a craving that was becoming months old.

On Sunday, we got an early start and headed for JR Kyoto Station to meet Kay. We were all excited for it as it was our first time seeing each other since Tokyo in August, and we settled on Kyoto since it was roughly halfway between our Hyogo and Kay’s Gifu. After a little confusion about where to find each other, we headed down into the underground Porta shopping mall and enjoyed catching up over lunch at Capricciosa. Afterwards we emerged into the dark, rainy weather and caught a bus to Shijo where the girls enjoyed browsing around Teramachi and Shin-Kyogoku streets. We got an early dinner at Shakey’s and made our way back towards Kyoto Station where we eventually had to split up and head back to our home prefectures.

26. イオン神戸北ショッピングセンター

Thursday, November 23, Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan (with no holiday on the Friday following it) was spent by us at a shopping center. Granted, it was huge, five days old, and in the middle of nowhere in North Kobe, but it was still a shopping center. Being that I didn’t want to drive to Miki on Thursday morning and drive back to Tamba on Friday morning only to drive back to Miki on Friday evening after classes, this was the best compromise I could come up with. Having set out by train from JR Kuroi Station for the first time in a long time, Kristine and I met outside Sanda Station and caught a bus to the Aeon Kobe Kita Shopping Center. It was in fact as new, shiny, and enormous as advertised, with the extra bonus of a Midori Denki and a Miraiya Bookstore.

For dinner, we decided on a place called Grand Buffet, which is . . . well . . . exactly what it’s called. For an actually very reasonable price, the two of us enjoyed an awesome buffet of foods Japanese and Western that was more than satisfying even if it lacked turkey.

Afterwards we went our separate ways back to our cities to get some sleep for class on Friday.

27. 奈良なら鹿しかいない。習った?

So on Friday night I drove to Miki and we prepared ourselves to make the long trek to Nara. We then left pretty early on Saturday morning, departing Miki and heading into Osaka, transferring to the JR Osaka Loop Line and using Tsuruhashi Station (random trivia: Tsuruhashi is the yakiniku capital of Japan. We will definitely have to go there some other time) to transfer to the Kintetsu line into Nara. Left at 7, arrived at 10. Ouch. After a brief stop at Starbucks, we began our Nara Walkfest, starting with the tomb of Emperor Kaika, hidden behind Sanjo Avenue. Though not related to Sanjo Avenue in Kyoto, Sanjo Avenue in Nara is pretty amazing. Quaint but lively including every kind of shop or service you could ever need. Including Curry House, where we stopped for lunch.

From there, we headed through Nara Park to see Kofukuji and Todaiji, the latter coming complete with its own giant Buddha! We also managed to pass by Shosoin, although it had apparently closed just before we passed by. We also went up to the Nigatsudo, a part of the Todaiji complex from which you can see a panoramic view of Nara. We also passed through Kasuga Shrine, a World Heritage site! By the time we had seen all that, it had become dark and we didn’t know what else we could do in the Naramachi area. So we hopped back to Kintetsu and rode the train line all the way back to Namba. There we stopped in at Wendy’s and I rediscovered the glorious, glorious Namba branch of Junkudo. Then we made our way back.

The next day we went to Kobe and did . . . shopping.

28. Wii.

So. After months of lusting and weeks of waiting, Saturday, December 2, 2006 in Japan finally arrived. And with it came the chance to pick up my very own copy of the most-hyped gaming system in years (positive hype, anyway), the Nintendo Wii.

Here’s how it came to be: two to three weeks prior to official sales release, we had indubitably determined that major electronics vendors such as Midori and Joshin were not taking any pre-orders for the system, instead relying on the traditional and positively undemocratic lottery system. Under this system, if you wish to purchase a game console, you must first get a lottery number. If your number is chosen on the day of release, this does not mean you have won a console; instead, you have won the right to buy a console at full price. No lines, no first come first serve. Saves on drama and (potentially) violence, but sucks if you’re trying to confirm that you will indeed get a system from said store. However, one day while browsing around your and my favorite place, ゆめタウン, I discovered a sign at Joypoint, a little shop between McDonald’s and the bookstore, with a sign simply saying 予約受付中 (now accepting reservations). So there was only one thing to do: reserve. So I did. And reserved one for Dylan too. Score. Later on I went to Joshin just for fun and got myself a ticket for their lottery anyway.

Come December 2, I met Dylan and Heather at the entrance of youme town slightly before their 10:00 opening as we stood outside with, oh, four other people also waiting for Wii. One slightly hilarious sight involved a middle-aged man and his daughter standing almost smack against the glass entrance doors waiting for the crack of 10 to run in and rush over to Joypoint only to be told that they were only selling pre-ordered machines. I’m sure he must have been absolutely shocked by this COMPLETE REVERSAL of Japanese video game machine buying protocol. Oh well. Dylan, Heather and I quietly and swiftly swept past him to retrieve our Wiis and a plethora of games and accessories. I suddenly felt very poor. Nevertheless, on a hunch we went over to Joshin afterward to check on my lottery number . . . which had been chosen. Five minutes later, I was even poorer than before. On the other hand, Kristine suddenly got herself a Wii.

After a lunch at Sukiya for which I had to pry myself away from Zelda, and after returning and enjoying several more hours of Zelda, I headed to Miki, where Kristine and I enjoyed a Fujiya dinner and then . . . Wii.

The next day, we planned to go to Kobe, but instead we stayed in . . . and played Wii.

A glorious weekend indeed.

I’ll stop here. This catching up thing is going well. I’m even amazed with myself. Meanwhile, as I’ve encountered problems with linking pictures into the text body, all pictures can be found in my permanent(?) online album, here.

In which I attempt to remember everything that’s happened since August 5. (Part 3)

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Thursday, 7 December 2006, 11.30 pm JST

sotd: Tokio, そらふね
cotd: LY3P Mazda MPV 23T

So. The more time I spend abroad = the lazier I get at things like e-mails and blog posts. (For quickest and most efficient communication, leave me a message on Facebook. I will most likely respond to it in about two and a half minutes ^_^)

That being said, let’s try something different with this post. I realize and understand that some personal computers (like mine, for example >.<) might not be happy with a helping of one seriously picture-intensive web page, but since I am well over two months behind on detailing my exploits in Abe’s Beautiful Country (more on this in a future post), a quick summary catch-up is called for. So let’s dial back the text and enjoy Japan through the wonder of bullet points and pictures!

So picking up from where I left off and last time and continuing from the weekend in Kobe, that should by my calculations bring us to

5. Local Festivals!

So continuing along with the narrative, the next big event that happened for us was the August 23 and August 24 Narimatsu Festival in 氷上町 (Hikami-cho/Hikami Town, one of the six parts that comprise Tamba City). See, earlier we (we being the ALTs and therefore default foreigners of Tamba) had gotten letters and phone calls about attending the festival, dressing up in yutaka, and participating in the Bon dance as representatives of the Tamba City International Association. (Which, to be honest, I was surprised to discover such a thing way out here in the middle of nowhere.) So being the dumb foreigners we are, we amazingly all agreed to sign up–without any communication amongst ourselves. And it was fun. And that was only the first day. The next day, upon hearing I knew of the festival, 教頭先生 (kyoto-sensei, vice-principal, or literally education-head-teacher) invited me to come with him for the second day’s activities. Knowing that Dylan wanted to return for the second day and not having a ride, I asked kyoto-sensei if we could pick him up. No problem at all. And then once there we got to have festival food. I love festival food. Especially から揚げ (fried chicken). There were also fireworks. Because even Japanese in the most remote inaka love fireworks. Anyway, I will stop typing and show some pictures. ぜひご覧ください。(Literally: if it is no trouble for you, and if you can find some time in your extremely busy and important schedule to do so, please cast your honorable gaze upon these despicable and worthless excuses for pictures.)


6. 外人カードGET!

August 24, 2006 marked a very important day for my life in Japan. This was the day I could finally return to Tamba City Hall after two very long weeks of agonizing waiting. . .to pick up my much-needed 外国人登録証明書 (the aforementioned Alien Registration Card). So in the morning Taniguchi sensei and I once again left school in his spiffy red Peugeot 206 to head over to the city hall and retrieve the card. From here we went over to Honda Auto Yamashita in 柏原町 (Kaibara-cho/Kaibara Town, another of the six parts of Tamba) to sign a rental contract for my car. (Those who know me well, fear not. There will indeed be a whole separate post devoted to the mechanical wonder that is my car.) After a quick lunch at Skylark Gusto Family Restaurant (not kidding), we went over to the NTT DoCoMo shop in Kaibara, which is sadly the closest one. After an hour-and-a-half long procedure of me *mostly* understanding what the associate was telling me, I walked out with a new Japanese phone plan and a spiffy new N902i mobile phone. In blue, of course. And then that night I got to the festival that I mentioned above.

7. Let’s enjoying bowling!

And then every single JET in Tamba and Sasayama met up for a healthy night of bowling before school started. With purple shoes. Pictures:


8. 始業式

On September 1, the new semester officially began. Which of course in reality meant that the kids all showed up for a 2-hour long assembly (始業式 or Opening Ceremony), went back to their homerooms to clean and then got to go home. This also meant that I was obliged to give a speech, seeing as I was the school’s newest teacher, and more importantly, the school’s new ALT.

My speech went something like this: “Good morning. My name is Chris and I am the new ALT here at Hikami High School. Maybe I look Japanese, but actually I am not Japanese, so please speak to me only in English. I come from Hawaii but I am very happy to be here in Japan. Let’s please have fun learning English together and let’s be good friends while I am a teacher here.” It was a 30-second speech that took at least 5 minutes to deliver.

Of course, I’m sure this is what the students heard: “Goo- mo-nin-. Mai ne-mu izu Chris akfjfjsldfjsdlfjjkfdsiofjf Hikami safjlkdsfiew. flksdfsfj;lkjsfifu Japanese safdsfjoiafjaeoifweojfew Japanese asfjdoifurhjoihfoif English. afjgohwoief Hawaii sfjoishgiofjoifj iewjfoiwef Japan. Let’s afjsoafeoiwf English askjfsdfi let’s kjfdoijgowenowe te-cha- sjfdljf.”

Not to stereotype or anything, but I’m roughly 80% sure this is how they heard my speech. And then I got to kick back and relax while the teachers systematically hand-checked each student for hair, nails (girls only) and uniforms. Oh, Japan.

9. Driving R175 (Not 175R).

So after that momentous big day in school, another big momentous event happened. I made my first long-distance drive in Japan. As always, on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. It doesn’t take long to get used to, but it’s still weird, yes. I drove all the way from my place . . . to Kristine’s place! Although we’re both located in rather odd places within Hyogo Prefecture, luckily there is a road that goes straight through both our cities and which I can cover in anywhere from 60 to 80 minutes, depending on traffic and the time of day. It is called 一般国道175号 (No good translation of this. I would say National Road No. 175 for Regular Cars). Although it’s not a particularly major road and certain parts of it are in slight disrepair, the fact that it goes from Maizuru in Kyoto Prefecture to Akashi in Hyogo Prefecture makes it a national road and not just a prefectural road. And 175 and I are probably going to become good friends in the next couple of years.

Miki: dsc03753.JPGdsc03754.JPGdsc03755.JPG

So the next day, Saturday, was spent in Osaka, the first time for Kristine, and the first time for me in a long time. Granted, most of our day was spent at Yodobashi Camera looking around at gadgets we don’t need and then me setting up Kristine’s phone plan. It was mentally exhausting. We had crepes afterwards to celebrate while waiting for the phone to be set up. We afterwards walked along Midosuji (the street, not the Osaka Municipal Subway line that runs underneath it) over to Keihan Yodoyabashi Station and ate at a little Japanese restaurant inside the 駅ビル (station building). When I remember, I’d like to go there again sometime. After all the fun and excitement of the day, we headed back to Miki.


10. アメリカン・フットボール・ゲーム!

So the next day I had to leave Miki and make the drive back up towards Tamba to make a stop at home, and immediately afterwards drive to Taniguchi sensei’s house in Sasayama City, next to Tamba but still 30 minutes away by car. After that we went together to JR Sasayamaguchi Station to catch the train. Our purpose now was to head to an American Football game. (Otherwise known as football. Haha.) And so we did. To watch football in Japan is an odd experience. Granted, coming from a school like Iolani where the football team is also a group of smallish Japanese kids, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but still, even in that case football is a distinctly American game. And so at a dedicated football stadium somewhere in between Takarazuka and Kobe, we watched the Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters face off against the Kobe University Ravens. Kwansei Gakuin (but read in kanji as Kansai Gakuin) is the alma mater of Taniguchi sensei . . . so it’s a good thing they won the game (40 to 10). Afterwards we got Chinese food and made our way back home.


11. Classes and a party!

So starting from that Monday, September 4, classes for the second semester officially began. This meant the beginning of performing my self-introduction lesson about twenty times, but you know, that’s how teaching goes, I guess. First impressions of my school?

1. The teachers are great, extremely welcoming and friendly and I’m sure they will help with any problem I might have.

2. The students are friendly but not so great at or terribly interested in English. But seeing as that is not what they attend this school for, that might be a given.

3. Being as this is a specialized high school, the curriculum is in some ways quite removed from the standard college-preparatory academic school, and the student body is actually remarkably small. I guess somehow I was expecting it to be a little bigger.

Things continued pretty much thusly until Friday night, when a whole bunch of the teachers went out for a huge 宴会 (enkai, or party). Yes, I got to go too. It was held at a local 居酒屋 (izakaya, or . . . izakaya). Reservations had been made so food was all lavishly laid out when we arrived. I would reckon there were about 25 of us there in total, and we ate and drank and made merry. And then the karaoke machine was turned on, and it just got crazy from there. I tell you, watch out for drunk Japanese schoolteachers singing along to words flashing by on a TV screen with the same three background videos playing over and over. Apparently afterwards there was a 二次会 (nijikai, literally two-next-gathering . . . I think you can figure this out), but I was way too tired and opted for a ride home. Nevertheless I am eagerly awaiting for the next opportunity to see my fellow teachers acting anything but seriously.

Pictures here.

12. On being productive in Osaka

So that Sunday, I ventured into Osaka to meet Chelsey Yap! (And her friend Kelly who I got to meet that day. She is also from Hawaii and is also studying at Kansai Gaidai right now.) After meeting them at the Keihan Yodoyabashi Station, we walked up Midosuji towards Umeda and basically spent the entire day in the area (Yodobashi Camera, lunch at Hankyu Sanbangai, walking around Hep Five). It started pouring in the afternoon so it wasn’t quite the ideal day for walking around anyway, but it’s always nice to see friends!

Unfortunately, the Gaidai kids had to go home to have dinner with their host families (I miss those days, but anyway.) and so I lingered around in Umeda to get some stuff done while I still had time. Plus I had trekked out all the way to the city anyway, so why not stay a while? So after seeing them off at Yodoyabashi Station, I again made my way up Midosuji to return to Hankyu Umeda station to meet Diana (my predecessor at Hikami) for dinner. We found a place on the basement restaurant floor and ate and chatted, mostly about what I thought of the school so far. After this, she had to leave and so I made my way back over to Yodobashi Camera. After pondering over it all day, I finally decided there was nothing to lose and headed into BB Park, an office space located in a corner of the main building with an entrance from the street, to apply and hopefully sign up for Yahoo! BB broadband internet service. After explaining my situation as a foreigner living in Japan desperately needing in-home internet service to a very friendly man named Takashi (who I suspect was the manager of the place), he helped me to sign up for 50MB 24-hour internet. Glorious, glorious internet. Granted I would have to wait a month to receive it, but here’s the deal: that weekend Yahoo was running a special package in conjunction with Yodobashi Camera whereby those signing up for new internet connections would also have their choice of a PS2 or PSP for 980 yen. As in, less than 10 green ones. And if that’s not good enough for you, your first two months of internet service are free. As in, well, free. So while living in Japan may be quite expensive sometimes, the deals make it oh so sweet. Then I went back over to Kinokuniya in the Hankyu Umeda Station (definitely one of my favorite places in Japan, although Book 1st Umeda, Junkudo Himeji, and Junkudo Sannomiya also rank highly) to exchange a book I had previously bought. This might have turned out to be a challenge. See, buying books in Japan is normally not much of a problem. I put the book on the counter. They tell me the price. I give them money. They put it in a bag. I can leave. Exchanging = not so simple. Fortunately I was able to communicate to the clerk that the first 30 pages or so of the book were missing (i.e., they had simply not been printed into the book), and I had also brought a good copy to the register, so could I please just switch them and take the correct one? [I wait while the clerk looks at the book and figures out what I just said.] [I wait while the clerk calls his manager.] [I wait while the manager also checks the book and confirms what has transpired between me and the clerk.] [I wait while the manager gives me the good copy and apologizes for allowing such a thing to have happened and for having me wait while they were checking the book.] [I say I will take that book and buy another one in addition.] [They are delighted and profusely apologetic.] Then I pay and can leave. Whew. Crisis averted in book world. Anyhow, after this, I headed out and caught a train heading out of JR Osaka Station back towards inaka home. Through the miracle of real-time e-mail communication via cellular phone, Dylan and I were able to meet up on the train on his way back from a weekend spent surfing on Shikoku. And then we totally enjoyed the (cough) two and a half hour train ride home. I like my car so much better now. Even with its 3-speed automatic and hot 13-inch steel wheels.

13. 氷上。柏原。京都!

So the next weekend was a three-day weekend. Monday September 18 was 敬老の日 (Respect for the Aged Day), and this instantly gave us an excuse for traveling. This week’s destination: 京都, Kyoto, ancient capital of Japan and at the same time home to its most amazing train station. But there were things to be done first. On the night of the previous Friday, Kristine came up to Tamba for the first time. We had plans to go out of town and see some sights with several of my fellow teachers but that got canceled due to weather concerns and now seems indefinitely postponed. Sigh. Either way, I had Kristine come as far as Sasayamaguchi Station, where I then drove to and picked her up. We enjoyed the lovely ride up Route 176 (not 175. 175 goes through Nishiwaki, Kato, Ono, Miki and Akashi. 176 goes through Sasayama and Sanda en route to Amagasaki and Osaka) back to Tamba where we enjoyed a nice dinner at Curry House (thank god there is one nearby me) and some browsing at Tsutaya for new music (thank god there is one nearby me). The next day we rolled out and headed over for a light snack at Mister Donut (thank god there is one nearby me) before heading over to Kaibara. Since we were not traveling as planned, we were able to head over to Kaibara High School, meet Dylan and Heather and catch a bit of the 文化祭 (Cultural Festival) there. This was my first visit to another Japanese high school besides Hikami, and it was at this time that I learned that all Japanese schools are designed the same. Well, at least all gymnasiums are. After realizing that we could use the rest of Saturday to get some traveling and sightseeing in, we left Kaibara, headed back for my place, packed up some things and took the next train out of JR Kuroi Station to Kyoto. And it only took about three hours or so. Whee. Good thing we’re never doing that again. Once in Kyoto, we had dinner at a nice little ramen shop south of the station and discovered a Uniqlo, which meant it was also our final stop of the night. For whatever reason though, it seems we may have been meant to go there, as we ran into fellow Hawaii JETs Wendy and Melissa, who are both living in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku and were visiting Kyoto together for the long weekend. So afterwards we all had drinks at Kyoto Tower Starbucks and caught up on respective living and working situations. After we parted, Kristine and I were left to wander around and try to find lodging. Eventually we found a place on Kujo and settled in for the night.

The next day we started by heading to Kyoto Station and getting 2-day free passes (unlimited use on all city buses and subways). We immediately got on a bus and headed north to partake in the wonder that is the Kinkakuji (金閣寺、Temple of the Golden Pavilion). Though having been restored ten bajillion times, it is still an amazing thing to see, and so I will let pictures speak for me.

From here, we got back on the bus and traveled over to the land of craziness that is the commerce capital of Kyoto, Shijo Kawaramachi. We browsed around a bit and had lunch underground below Sanjo before trekking our way out to Kiyomizudera where we would also be meeting Heather and Dylan.

After getting a snack of シャカシャカ fries at Wendy’s, we figured out our plan to head over to the best restaurant in the world. And some walking and a bus ride later, we arrived at Jumbo Okonomiyaki.

And then we headed back towards the city center and spent a couple hours trying to find lodging. We did. Eventually. Anyhow, on Sunday, Heather and Dylan had some business to take care of elsewhere in Kyoto and so we parted ways and Kristine and I headed for 二条城 (Nijo Castle), built by Tokugawa Ieyasu as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa shoguns and home of the famous nightingale floors.

Afterwards, we headed back up for Shijo Kawaramachi and browsed a little around the Teramachi and Shinkyogoku shopping streets before walking back up Shijo to meet a boatload of people for dinner. The destination: Gyuzen, a 食べ放題 (all-you-can-eat) sukiyaki restaurant. Yay!

From here, we headed back to Kyoto Station and took an outbound train back towards inaka home. Apparently I won the Longest Train Ride Award, with my three-hour ride back to JR Kuroi. Oi indeed. >.< And then it was back to a week of class.

Pictures to all of the above can be seen here. My original plan was to imbed all the pictures throughout the text, but that plan failed, so here is a link to my online photo album of the weekend.

14. 体育大会

Amazingly, the next week was also not a full week of school. (Will there ever be one? It remains to be seen.) Instead, the entire school was completing preparations to stage the annual 体育大会 (taiiku taikai, body-raise-big-meeting or Sports Day in normal English). This meant we had no class at all on Thursday, as the field had to be set up and rehearsals had to be done for the event. Friday was the actual Sports Day, full of foot races, tug-of-war, and award-giving. It also included a sweet-looking bento compliments of the school and me in an awesome new track suit. There was also a big party after school at a nearby izakaya. Even 校長先生 (the principal) and 教頭先生 (the vice-principal) were there. Big party indeed. I was there from 6 to 11, was taken home, and promptly proceeded to crash for the night.

Pictures are here

15. 三木東高校文化祭

So the next day, a Saturday, marked an early start for me and another drive from Tamba to Miki. The purpose: Miki Higashi High School’s Cultural Festival. Of course I would have to make an appearance, being together with the school’s ALT and all. So I think that as a typical display of a Cultural Festival, there included food booths, club project displays (such as Kristine’s ikebana arrangement), musical and dramatic performances, and a live radio interview of Kristine sensei! Anyway, it was fun! Pictures:


Afterwards we explored Miki a bit, had a fancy Italian dinner and returned to settle in for the night and enjoy the 電車男DXスペシャル. Cause who doesn’t love 電車 and エルメス? (Especially エルメス.) The next day we headed to Kobe and in our dead tired state walked a lot around Sannomiya and Motomachi and eventually found dinner in the Harborland area. . . at an Italian restaurant. Ha . . . ha. And then the next day I returned to Tamba and my weekday alter-ego as a teacher at Hikami High School.

16. カラオケをしましょう!

So the next weekend I was in Miki yet again! But this time for the time-honored tradition of getting drunk and singing silly songs in front of people you don’t know, of course more elegantly known as karaoke. We were there until about 1. And then we stumbled over to a ramen place on the way back. And then the next day I couldn’t really do anything. But then on Sunday we went to Osaka and that somewhat made up for things. We explored the 心斎橋 (Shinsaibashi) and 難波 (Namba) shopping/entertainment districts and stayed out pretty late. On Monday I returned to Tamba for another rousing week of classes with my lovely students.

17. 22才へ。

In another couple of days, it was already the 4th of October, and my twenty-second birthday. My second in Japan, hooray! Unfortunately, as has been the case in recent years, my birthday has fallen on a weekday. This week was a Wednesday . . . the very middle of the week. Not knowing what to do but somehow internally convinced that it should be celebrated (even just a little), I somehow managed to cancel my community center English class (more on this later?), leave school almost precisely at 4, drive over to JR Sasayamaguchi Station where I left my Corolla II in the handy car park, and caught an outbound express towards Sanda. Having arrived at JR Sanda Station, I had to find my way in the rain to find the Shintetsu line to go out to the Woody Town mall area where I was to meet Kristine. Fortunately our timing was awesome and I was sitting on the train when I saw someone who looked like Kristine get on the same train. Good thing it turned out to be Kristine! And good thing she got into the right train car! So we got to Woody Town, and despite the cold and rain, went to the mall and had a nice dinner and movie night. We ended up seeing 涙そうそう, a sad nostalgic-type family-love story and had dinner in the mall with two nice mini-kaiseki dishes. And by the time we finished all of this, it was time to head home. Luckily the rain stopped but of course we had to catch trains in opposite directions. It was a great day though!

Pictures here.

18. Festival, Castle, Aquarium

[Bonus points if you understand the inspiration for this chapter heading.] 

So in another couple days I was back in Miki, ready to enjoy yet another three-day weekend, thanks to the awesome and well-timed placement of 体育の日 (Sports Day). So here’s how it went down, summary-style:

Saturday: Late start, explored around Miki in the morning and early afternoon, came back to Kristine’s house, and then rode the train for two stops to 三木上の丸駅 (Miki Uenomaru Station) to go to the big town festival since there was no chance of finding parking anywhere. Got to see about six different groups carrying their omikoshi (portable shrines) up a huge staircase to the main temple in town called 大宮八幡宮 (Omiya Hachimangu) and got to eat lots of festival food and hang out with Miki JETs. Yay. Afterwards we got a real dinner at Gusto and enjoyed the local Japanese custom of going to a ファミレス (family restaurant) to eat for twenty minutes and then hang out and take up space for an hour.

Pictures here.

Sunday: Slept in and got another late start. Headed out around lunch time towards 姫路 (Himeji; Note: Please only read the first two paragraphs. It gets pretty bad from there.) to see 白鷺城 (Shirasagi Castle, more commonly referred to by its standard name 姫路城 or Himeji Castle) for the first time. Ironically it is one of the few places I intended to go while I was at Kansai Gaidai . . . and I never actually made it there. Having now been there, it is definitely on the short list of my favorite places to go in Japan (not that I have seen much of Japan, but I am working on it!). Afterwards we explored downtown Himeji (basically the area between the castle and the station) and after dinner at the station discovered Himeji’s 淳久堂 (Junkudo, one of the large national bookstore chains) and browsed our hearts out. Even though the bookstore took up only one floor of the station building, it was a massive floor at that, and we were physically unable to see the entire bookstore before we had to leave. Revisiting Himeji Junkudo is now on my to-do list for the near future.

Pictures here.

Monday: Got up early! (An amazing feat for us.) Headed out to 大阪港 (Osaka Bay Area) to take Kristine to the 海遊館 (Kaiyukan, the Osaka Aquarium) and see the 天保山 (Tenpozan) Area, which is basically the part of Osaka near the bay which includes the Aquarium, and 南港 (Nanko Island), a man-made island opposite the bay which includes the Osaka World Trade Center, the Asia-Pacific Trade Center (don’t let the name of this one fool you, it is basically just a gigantic shopping mall), and sprawling residential development which was definitely not to be seen the last time I was there, about two years ago. Afterwards we headed back to Umeda and had dinner in the Hankyu complex and enjoyed more literary delights at Kinokuniya. We left Osaka around 10 and got back in pretty late.

Pictures here.

19. 田舎の楽しめ方

So during the next weekend, I went down to Miki on Friday night to get Kristine, have dinner, and then come back up to Tamba for us to have a relaxing weekend about town. And not like gas costs 5 dollars a gallon or anything. But oh well. On Saturday, we spent most of our time walking around the major (by major, I mean only) two malls in Tamba, both about a block away from each other. One is コモ-レ (Comore? I have no idea what this means, if indeed it does mean anything at all), and the other, larger, more important one is called youme town (literally you and me town, but written and spoken in Japanese as ゆめタウン, “dream town” . . . quite interesting once you wrap your mind around the initial linguistic complexity). Perhaps one day I’ll even transcribe here the youme town official theme song. Our festivities were capped off with another great dinner at Curry House. The next day, we were back at youme town once again. Afterwards I got some cleaning and such done at home and then we were off back to Miki. And then I turned around and came back to Tamba.

20. 中間試験期間

So the week afterwards was midterm examination week, and for the life of me I could not figure out how this worked out. The Japanese school calendar begins in April and ends in March. The second semester starts on September 1, which I now know from experience, so if the second semester lasts from September to March, the midterm examinations cannot possibly fall in the middle of October. BUT, instead of grappling with this scheduling dilemma where the only likely outcome was a bad headache, I merely sat back and contented myself to enjoy the four days of work without any classes. Instead I used the time to work out my lesson for the community English class I teach and plan for our next weekend’s trip to Kyoto, which I shall discuss momentarily.

Momentarily shall be the next segment, as this is already way too long.

In which I attempt to remember everything that’s happened since August 5. (Part 2)

Friday, 29 September 2006

Friday, 29 September 2006, 12.45 pm JST

sotd: スキマスイッチ, ガラナ
cotd: SXE10 Toyota Altezza RS200 Z-Edition

So after making sure my apartment was inhabitable (which it is, for the most part), my first week was spent meeting various teachers (and forgetting their names), finding my way (i.e. being taken by car) around Tamba City, getting various important affairs taken care of (including the all-important 外国人登録証明書, the alien registration card otherwise and more simply known as the “gaijin card”), finding out where to shop for daily necessities and of course food, and in general finding my way around my area. Around my house.Walking was my primary mode of transportation in the very beginning, although I soon came into possession of a lovely red Japan-standard bicycle…which I haven’t actually been using very much.

On that first Sunday night, however, thanks to being informed by my predecessor, I was able to go out to a summer festival in neighboring Kaibara Town. There I met for the first time other JETs in Tamba, Simon from Canada, Aaron from Australia, Alethia from Jamaica and Marcela from Trinidad & Tobago, plus of Yay for fireworks.course my lovely predecessor Diana. True to summer festival style, there was a grand fireworks display (even for super inaka land) and about 10 million Japanese girls in yukata. And it was my first chance to ride an inaka train, traveling a whopping 2 stations from my home station of Kuroi over to Kaibara station. It took 10 minutes. Wow.

Immediately after this weekend was the お盆祭 (o-bon matsuri, or Festival of the Dead) in which everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, makes a mass exodus out of large cities to their original or ancestral hometowns to pray for the safety of their dead ancestors who have come back to visit for this one weekend. So on Monday I took my first of twenty days of nenkyu (年次休暇, or annual paid leave) because Taniguchi-sensei had invited me to go watch a baseball game at world-famous Koshien Stadium for the later stages of the national high school baseball tournament. (Which, by the way, is the biggest sporting event in Japan. Even bigger than the professional baseball tournament. Like, seriously.) Unfortunately, being Bon time and all, his wife and his mother DISALLOWED him from going to watch baseball. Harsh, ain’t it? So instead I got to participate in a real village meeting (in 篠山市東木の部, Higashi-kinobe Village in Sasayama City, which is the city next to Tamba) and experience O-bon in Japan. And then I got to have lunch at the Taniguchi house. And man, was it awesome. And his house is real nice too. And then we got Me and Taniguchi sensei at the Higashi-kinobe village watch the baseball game on TV anyway. (Fukuchiyama, who the Taniguchis were rooting for, won 4-0 but then got eliminated a couple games later. . .)  And then we went driving some around Sasayama, which is (a) bigger than Tamba and (b) has castle ruins. Where are our castle ruins? Sheesh.

Anyway, after that it was Tuesday and time to head to

3. Yashiro Prison

Not that Yashiro is a prison, by any means. It’s apparently what the place has come to be called by JETs over the years. It’s actual name, as I mentioned earlier, is the Hyogo Prefectural Institute for Educational Research and In-Service Training (兵庫県立教育研修所). I think I may have said the name wrong last time. Anyway, the point is, as it is located in Yashiro . . . thus we call it Yashiro. And yes, I had to leave my house at 7 in the morning to get there by 10:30. >.<

My route involved getting on a train at my station, Kuroi, and riding it to Tanikawa station until 7:29. At Tanikawa station, I get off the train and transfer from the JR Fukuchiyama line to the JR Kakogawa line and ride that train from 7:36 to 8:03. At 8:03 I get off that train at Nishiwaki-shi station because that’s only as far as it goes. At that time I need to cross the platform and get on another train even though I am staying on the same train line. And then I have to wait until 8:28 for it to leave, and then I stay on it until 8:37 when I get off at Yashiro-cho station. Now, at this point, it was all planned out where I would get off the train and get on an 8:40 Shinki bus (Shinki = 神姫, or the Kobe-Himeji region) and go up to the institute. Except for a slight flaw in Taniguchi sensei’s and my planning.THE 8:40 BUS WAS NOT RUNNING DUE TO A SPECIAL OBON SCHEDULE. WTF. And I did not discover this until I got to Yashiro. >.< So I had to wait in a little ふれあい室 (community room) that was sort of attached to the station. In retrospect, I’m very glad that room was there because the next bus was not until 10:10. So I sat in there, tried to read, played around a bit on a touch-panel internet console they had there. And waited. And there was no way I was walking to the institute.  So once the 10:10 bus came I jumped on and rode my way to the institute.

The Hyogo Prefectural ALT Orientation (the name of the event we were actually there for) was, per expectations, not extremely exciting at all, save for seeing familiar JETs and meeting lots of new ones, including Kristine’s and my new best friends Dylan and Heather who had come up to JET together but were in a very similar situation to us . . . in a very committed relationship, but with Heather placed way down in Akashi City and Dylan placed next to me at Kaibara Senior High School. Not so cool if you ask me. Or them. But なんとなく (somehow) it’s working out and we’re all getting along as well as we can and even having outings together! (I’ll get to that later.) So as I was saying, the orientation itself was half a rehash of Tokyo orientation, and half reading the Hyogo Prefecture Board of Education work contract word for word while we sat in the auditorium and followed along. Oh yeah, fun stuff indeed. Until after dinner, when the Yashiro kitchen staff put away their The Yashiro Kitchen Band makes their debut to the 2006 batch of Hyogo JETs.pots and pans and brought out their guitars and had everybody rocking out to assorted oldies sung in near-perfect English. And word on the street is they play at a bar very near to Dylan and me. Score.

The next day featured much of the same with the addition of a dressing down of all the members present because apparently someone had taken a fire extinguisher off the wall during a bout of drunkenness on the first night and set it off in one of the bathroom’s. Yeah, real smart, you drunken, immature idiot. Also, we got to sit through a boring (but somehow entertaining at the same time) skit-based presentation on how to behave at an 宴会 (enkai, or party). Take your shoes off when you enter the place, don’t drink before the toast, etc. etc. So I’ll include a picture. The enkai skit.But please note as a bonus the national flag of Japan on the left and the prefectural flag of Hyogo on the right. Woohoo!

So then that night, despite a slightly depressed mood because of the soon-to-become-notorious “2006 Yashiro Fire Extinguisher Incident” we nevertheless had a lavish reception banquet and a rocking dance party with the kitchen band. Until 9:00, that is, when we were promptly ordered to leave the hall and be quiet and not to disturb anyone for the rest of the night. The third day, Thursday, was more of the same, except we got to work with some Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs hereafter) on preparing lessons and such. On Friday was but a short lecture, lunch, and then time to clean up and check out. Unfortunately, with my timing being a little off, I was only able to catch a bus halfway (maybe not even halfway. . .) to the station, at which point I decided to walk to Yashiro-cho station with three other JETs, with my baggage and dressed in my finest. Needless to say, by the time I reached the station I was soaking wet and not feeling very well. Not cool. At all. And then I had to basically reverse the course I described earlier, which meant that I left Yashiro at 2 and was back in Tamba at 5. That left me with little to do except check my e-mail and figure out my key situation. See, my unit in the teachers’ housing is not the same unit that my predecessor lived in, but one a few units down. I had been told that I could take whatever I needed/wanted from that apartment and move it to my apartment. . .except that I was having problems getting in. So I arrived back at school on Friday to retrieve the key and quickly learned that there were no problems with the key. I had just made a mistake and was trying to get into the wrong apartment. Um. . .oops. So until the sun went down on Friday (as there is no working electricity in the predecessor’s apartment, of course) and for most of the day on Saturday I spent moving a whole ton of stuff four apartment units down. It was a lengthy, tiresome process and I felt pretty drained afterwards. But, on the upside, my apartment was now furnished! Or at least, it had a whole bunch of stuff in my kitchen and the neighboring room that I would now have to spend hours looking through and arranging how I liked. Oi. So although I wasn’t able to spend much time with Kristine over the weekend as had originally been planned, we had agreed at Yashiro to meet in Sunday in Motomachi (in the pre-keitai stone age era of mid-August), and so Sunday morning marked my triumphant return

4. To Kobe!

Of the three cities in the Keihanshin area (京阪神, one character each for Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe respectively, and unarguably my favorite part of Japan ^_^), Kobe is definitely the city that I know the least. No doubt because Kansai Gaidai and Hirakata City are located smack dab in the middle of Osaka and Kyoto, but also because there’s much more to do in those two than in Kobe. And it would have been more expensive to go to Kobe from Hirakata. I have since learned that it takes me about 2.5 hours to get to Osaka by train and about 2.5 hours to get to Kobe by train from my area. So, all things equal, I’ll probably be in Osaka a lot more. Going to Kristine’s house, however, and leaving from there, it is indeed quicker and cheaper to go to Kobe. So that might end up happening a lot too. So anyway, I The main entrance to 南京町got on a train out of Kuroi at 7:30 and was at Motomachi Station in Kobe at 10. I promptly took Kristine around to 南京町 (Nankinmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown) and メリケンパーク (Meriken Park, which is an open area around Kobe harborThe Port of Kobe, including Kobe Maritime Tower and includes a memorial to the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake).

After all of this we made our way around the harbor over to Harborland (just the name for that area of Kobe), which includes a couple of malls. I’m not so keen on the malls themselves, but Kobe Canal Garden does include my favoritest escalator in the world, and so I shall conclude with that for today.

My favoritest escalator in the world. For reals.Hell yeah.

Okay, that’s all for today, as I need to quickly leave school and pack up to head down to Miki. コメントちょうだい! (Comments please!)

In which I attempt to remember everything that’s happened since August 5. (Part 1)

Monday, 25 September 2006

Monday, 25 September 2006, 01.20 pm JST

sotd: Seamo, Lupin the Fire
cotd: USF40 Lexus LS460 Version S

So before (a) even more time passes than already has since I made it to Japan, and (b) before more time passes in which I don’t even update my new blog, now is the time to reach back into my memory and try (again, try) to explain everything that’s happened in the whirl of events since that extra plush JAL flight on the early morning of Saturday, August 5, 2006.

Why I love JAL.It feels odd to think that my last weekend in Hawaii wasn’t so long ago, yet it was spent so frantically that I can’t now remember everything that happened, everything that I did in those last few days before packing up and leaving home. It was even more nervous considering that I’m no longer doing wussy three-month trips to Portland and back, where accomodations and schedules were pre-planned and everybody speaks English. This time I was heading off to Japan, not as a tourist, not even as a foreign study abroad student with a host family that would cook for me and do my laundry, but as a full-fldeged government employee now employed by the Hyogo Prefecture Board of Education and teaching in a prefectural (read: public) Japanese senior high school and living in 50-year old teacher housing where more appliances run on gas than on electricity. But yet, it’s exactly what I wanted. It’s the single life event I have been working towards and waiting for since I first returned from Hirakata in December 2004. And now I’m here. And everything about it is absolutely amazing. But in order to trace everything to where I am today, let’s start at the beginning, with

1. Tokyo Orientation

Friendly Airport Limousine!Apparently we were lucky. Having arrived at Narita International Airport at 11 in the morning, we were able to get on the usual orange Friendly Airport Limousine and were at our splendid (i.e. could not have stayed there if we were paying for it ourselves) lodgings at the Keio Plaza Hotel in the middle of Shinjuku–literally across the street from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building–by 1:30 or so.Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building As nothing was planned for that Sunday, we were free to do as we pleased for the rest of the day after we checked into our rooms. Quite a shame that some groups were arriving at 10 and even 11 pm when we were coming back to go to bed. So Kristine and I spent the day with Jamie and her roommate Leslie walking about the Shinjuku environs (新宿駅の周辺, I don’t make this stuff up, folks) and eventually settling down for dinner at a small okonomiyaki place. (In the middle of Tokyo, no less. なんでやねん?) Having not had the delectable egg-vegetable-meat pancake-like dish for some months, I was eager to chow down, but at the same time, adequately embarrassed when I couldn’t remember the simple procedure for do-it-yourself cooking that makes it okonomi (as you like) in the first place. But end of story, I got the Deluxe Special Mix Okonomiyaki (or something like that) and I was a happy boy after that. Yay for okonomiyaki with squid.

 JET Program OrientationMonday morning marked the official beginning of the 平成十八年度JETプログラム来日直後オリエンテーション (2006 JET Program Post-Arrival Orientation). A tip for the future, which no one in charge will read, much less heed: stuffing over 1,000 JET Program members into one hotel in the middle of Shinjuku, Tokyo and trying to run a major orientation program where every one of those members has to be at the same exact place at the same exact time while still maintaining normal hotel operations and trying to keep happy all of your routine guests = not such a good idea. But that’s how it went down, and consequently, at the same times of the day, 1,000+ people were trying to go downstairs to the 5th floor ballroom, 1,000+ people were heading to the same area for lunch, etc. etc. Not so fun when you have to ride the elevator up 30 floors just to go down 2.It's official! And not that there were any stairs you could take in place of the elevator. Trust me, we tried. Of course, there were stairs. And of course they were only emergency stairs. And of course if you opened it an alarm probably would have gone off and the whole thing just would have ended badly. So thus we were left to find creative ways of going downstairs from our rooms. And speaking of rooms, mine was great. There were three of us Hawaii guys there, me plus Nicholas (now in Aichi) and Brandon (now in Gifu) in a room on the 36th floor with a perfect view of Shinjuku station and Takashimaya Times Square. Shinjuku Station & Takashimaya Times SquareThe orientation itself was exciting but not very memorable. Most of the content delivered was either common sense or could be found word-for-word in the JET handbook. I did get to meet up with Audrey (the only other classmate from LC starting on JET this year!) and Natalie, whom I had met at Kansai Gaidai and not seen since then!

On Monday night, Kristine and Jamie and I went out and after many wrong turns met Kristine and Jamie enjoy the Hub.Taka at the east exit of Shinjuku station. He took us to the Hub and introduced me to the awful, awful Stairway to Heaven (note: absinthe is still illegal in the U.S.), and a little while later, Mayu met us there! Yay for mini-reunions. After hanging out at the Hub for way too long, we took Taka back over to the hotel and showed him around inside Me and Taka and Tokyo!for a little bit, but he left soon in order to make the train back over to Edogawabashi.

 Tuesday was more of the same, many lectures, many long elevator waits, and the like. One key difference, though. Here we finally got some Hyogo-specific information about our travel plans out of Tokyo and what would be happening once we got there. After all the fun was over, a large group of the Hawaii JETs went out to find food. We wandered into a restaurant alley near the station, and eventually split up. Due to some errors in communication and whatnot, the full group never merged back together, but we did end up hooking up with another Hawaii group that was going out…to the Hub. >.< It was quite a moment when we ended up there Me and Mari at the Hub!and realized we had just been there the night before. BUT, it was also quite a shock as we were standing outside and Mari walked up! Totally not planned. at. all. Talk about 偶然 (coincidences)! So we once again spent some time at the Pub and headed back to the hotel a little late.

Wednesday was a big day for all of us, and quite a blur, as we would be heading off in our separate directions. After getting one last crappy Western breakfast in Me trying to blend in with the Fukuoka of the hotel’s dining rooms, I grabbed up all my bags and took them to the central meeting room to await our imminent departure. After much waiting and some pictures with the Fukuoka Hawaii JETs, it was finally time to head

2. To Hyogo!(*)

We were finally led out of the hotel to a bus waiting in front, which in turn took us across Tokyo by way of the Imperial Palace to Tokyo Station itself. Not my favorite station in Japan (I’ll address that later), but the front facade is to die for. From here we were rounded up, counted off, and led in a hurry (not to mention with ALL of our baggage) to the Shinkansen platform for a Nozomi train that would take us to Shin-Osaka station within Yay for a world with shinkansen trains.three hours. Yes, THREE hours on a train across half the country. (It takes me 2.5 hours just to get from my house to Osaka on a normal train, but more on that later too.) After getting off there, we were led through the absolutely sweltering heat to a mildly air-conditioned bus that led us to the Hyogo Prefectural Institute for Education and In-Service Training (兵庫県立教育研修所) in Yashiro Town, Kato City (hereafter referred to as Yashiro). Here we were introduced to our supervisors, or at least whoever was responsible for bringing us back from Yashiro to our schools. It was at this time I met Mr. Taniguchi Yoshimasa, my “go-between” (I’d explain this term, but even we here haven’t figured out exactly what this means), and Mr. Murayama Yoshio, the vice-principal of the school. After a roughly 45 to 50 minute drive out of Yashiro, they had finally brought me to Tamba City, Kasuga Town, to Hikami Prefectural Senior High School 兵庫県立氷上高等学校, where I would now be working at for the foreseeable future. I was That's my school way in the back there.first taken to the school itself to check in, see my desk, and meet the principal, and then was taken to see my lovely apartment in the 教職員住宅 (teachers’ housing).

I’ll pick up from there in the next installment, as some out there have been clamoring for a new post, so I’ll go public now instead of making this one huge draft. So until next time.